HarperCollins CMO Angela Tribelli: The Outsider

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

Spend too much time looking at something too closely, and it starts to blur and fade. Your eyes lose focus and before long, you don’t know what you’re looking at. Especially if it’s moving near light speed and accelerating.

That’s how veteran book industry professionals might feel right now: The business is changing and the harder you stare at it, the harder it is to tell what’s going on.

Maybe that’s why HarperCollins hired an outsider to be its chief marketing officer. Angela Tribelli joined the New York-based publisher as CMO in February having never before worked in book publishing. Her appointment was quickly followed in May by that of Chantal Restivo-Alessi to the position of chief digital officer – another outsider, hinting at the company’s senior-level recruiting strategy (Restivo-Alessi had previously been an investment banker at Dutch bank ING).

Tribelli has joined the publishing industry at a sensitive time. As online bookselling and e-books have become a bigger part of the overall revenue mix for publishers, the new arts of online marketing and e-book marketing have grown in importance. Publishing companies are now marketing online, through social media and directly to consumers in ways they never have before. So how do publishers pivot and ride this wave of change rather than get bowled over by it?

It could take an outsider to figure it out.

Tribelli, 39, joined HarperCollins from NYC & Company, a public-private partnership for promoting New York City and tourism, where she spent five years and rose to the rank of senior vice president of digital. Prior to that, she spent eight years at American Express Publishing, the New York-based magazine publisher of titles such as Food & Wine, working in editorial and digital roles. She also spent time at CondeNet, the online division of magazine publisher Conde Nast, and Papermag.com, the Web version of Paper Magazine. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and an M.B.A. in finance from the Wharton School.

We spoke with Tribelli about marketing analytics, the recent sales reorganization at HarperCollins, and why publishers need to think more like direct marketers.


Jeremy Greenfield: You come from outside the book industry and you’ve basically just started. From your outside perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges facing book marketers today? And what are some of the biggest untapped opportunities?

Angela Tribelli: Publishers need to think more like direct marketers. We need to take a cue from companies like American Express. Those are companies that make it their business to know as much as they can about the consumer and tailor marketing products to engage those audiences. The more we know about our audiences, the more we can engage them effectively and target our messaging; and, critically, find more people like our audience that we aren’t already reaching through our traditional channels.

I think one emerging channel that’s particularly exciting for publishers is the interest graph [“the online representation of your interests based on your social and search activity,” as defined by TheInterestGraph.org]. As marketers we’ve done very well with the social graph, channels like Facebook and Twitter.

The interest graph is very powerful because it measures consumer intent. How do we mine consumer intent? On Pinterest, I say that I am buying that thing or cooking this thing or building that thing. Consumers are saying that these are the things that they want to engage in and purchase. How do I move the conversation from interest to transaction?


JG: The sales force at HarperCollins just went through a reorganization. Several people were promoted and some left the company. How might this affect you and the marketing there?

AT: I’m personally thrilled to see Frank Albanese [now senior vice president of market insight and sales operations] elevated to a more senior role. Like Dan Lubart [senior vice president of sales analytics and pricing], he’s been a terrific partner on the sales analytics side, and has been an instrumental member of the cross-department team that’s cooking up some really interesting pilots here.

This is the kind of work that happens when people from different disciplines step outside their daily routine and collaborate on solving tough problems. And it isn’t just sales and marketing working together, but also developers, analysts and creatives looking at the same challenge from different angles, and providing their unique insights and expertise. This reorganization is another important step in fostering an innovation-driven environment, and I’m excited to be a part of it.


JG: Let’s switch gears for a second and talk about something very hot in the book industry itself right now: discoverability. What does it mean to you?

AT: The first part of discoverability presupposes that you understand who the audience is.

Part of what we want to do here and what all good marketers should be doing is really rigorous consumer segmentation. Because once you understand not just who your audience is but who you aren’t reaching, then you can best develop the proper channels in order to engage with those audiences. That has to be the basis of discoverability, knowing who the audience is – who you’re reaching, who you aren’t reaching.

Searchability is also critical. One thing we pay a lot of attention to here is our metadata; ensuring that our content can be found by audiences who are both broad and niche and who are looking for it is just baseline good marketing.

In terms of broader discoverability, it’s marrying the audience to the channel to the content. That means inserting ourselves into their search pathways, whether that’s on a broad portal like a Yahoo or iVillage or within a very specific niche community. Both are about the same thing: finding your audience where they are. The hardest thing as a marketer is moving audiences to where they don’t naturally want to be.


JG: We should say here that you’ll be speaking at our Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing conference in September, talking about using data and analytics in marketing. Why is it important for book marketers to use data and analytics as they form campaigns, etc?

AT: One of the most important things before you launch into any campaign is to define in advance what your success metrics are. We need to agree that success is defined by a certain set of criteria. Measuring that criteria allows us to be more experimental. The measurement allows us a lot of liberation and allows us to think creatively.

When you measure, you know what’s working and what isn’t. You can focus your resources on the things that are working. That liberates the rest of the budget that may have been used in less optimized channels for experimentation in new channels.

Without that basis of measurement, there’s no way to determine what’s working and what’s not working.


JG: Speaking of measuring success, how will you measure the company’s success in marketing?

AT: We look at data in two ways. The first and more traditional way is to define business objectives, and then systematically gather the data to measure our success in achieving those objectives. That’s the relatively simple and straightforward path and a great starting point.

The second way – and this is a lot tougher, but also more exciting – is to mine a broad set of data for meaningful patterns that may not be readily apparent, but that also suggest actionable marketing opportunities. To do this successfully, you need a well-oiled machine of analysts, creatives and engineers sitting side by side, and working closely together, as well as a leadership team that can orchestrate it all.


JG: More book publishers are starting to try to go direct-to-consumer with their marketing efforts, gathering names, launching blogs. What’s HarperCollins’s strategy on this front?

AT: Multi-channel direct marketing efforts are a critical component of our strategy. The first step, though, is defining the target audience by author or genre. Once you have that, you need to determine how to best engage that audience – is it a matter of tapping into existing channels, or galvanizing the fan-base around new ones? The former is generally far easier, but the latter can yield higher returns when you tap into a super-engaged audience, as we’ve seen with our Avon Romance programs like Avon Addicts. The short answer is we’re doing both, and partnering with some very innovative and exciting companies in the process – stay tuned.

Related: Should Publishers Sell Directly to Consumers? One Good Reason: Data


JG: Are you going to try to build the HarperCollins brand among consumers?

AT: This is an evolving strategy. The primary goals of our marketing efforts are to support our authors and engage receptive consumers, so we need to create affinities that make sense. In most cases that means marketing our authors and their works, but in others, it means building brand awareness around genre-specific imprints, or HarperCollins itself.


JG: As marketing becomes more digital, does that change the kind of marketer you need to be hiring in the future?

AT: We have an amazing marketing staff here at HarperCollins. One of the areas that we need to become better at is the quantitative side of marketing.

We have to be smarter with what we do with data. Collecting it is half the challenge. The other half is taking that data and mining it to separate signal from noise and acting on it.

So, as we gather this information we have to determine what are the relevant findings and how we develop marketing plans around those findings for our authors.

We have amazing creative capabilities in-house, amazing publicity capabilities, but I think all publishers could use more quants [quantitative analysts]. We will be hiring those people.


JG: You’re new to the book industry. Like most people, I’m assuming you joined in part for the love of the word – printed or electronic. Tell me why you love books/the book industry.

AT: It’s true. I love books and the book industry. But I also love innovation. The book industry is poised to pivot in a very interesting way. And I am delighted that HarperCollins is taking the opportunity to help lead the charge there.

Right now, the way consumers interact with the works of an author is just exploding in many different ways. Of course, the book will always be at the core of what we do, but how the process of consuming the book – both in a one-to-one relationship and a one-to-many relationship – is a very exciting thing to start to consider.

One of the questions that I like to consider is, “What would happen if one of our books – say a Neil Stephenson book – was mashed up with World of Warcraft?” how does that look? How does the product change? How does consuming the book change? Of course there are many books that I want to read start to finish on my own, but there are others that I want to interact with in different ways. How does that innovation start to take shape, and how will we be at the vanguard of shaping it?


JG: Neil Stephenson and World of Warcraft aside, what cool marketing projects is HarperCollins working on right now?

AT: I love what we’re doing with Avon romance, specifically around Avon Addicts. What I really love as a marketer is that we’ve found a way to ignite the fan base and have them act as an advocate for Avon.

The thing to know about Avon Addicts is that statistically it was harder to become an Avon Addict than to get into Harvard. We reached out to the Avon reader fan base and asked them to write in why they should become an Avon Addict, to blog about our books or write about them in whatever social platform they liked the most. The response rate was incredible. They were all vying to become advocates and super-fans of the Avon brand. Those selected were beyond thrilled and they have become great advocates.


JG: What are you reading and on what platform?

AT: I only started at HarperCollins a few months ago, so I’m immersing myself in our authors. Right now I’m reading Clayton Christensen’s book, How Will You Measure Your Life [HarperCollins]. I’m reading that on my iPad. It’s a wonderful business book on the important drivers of success in life, how you define those drivers and how you measure up to them.

The other book that I’m reading right now is Zak Pelaccio’s Eat With your Hands [HarperCollins]. It’s a terrific cookbook and he has this great recipe for crispy chicken salad that inspired me to use my mortar and pestle for its intended purpose.

I have a four-year-old daughter so we’re reading Love Pinkalicious [HarperCollins] and the format I’m reading it in re-usable sticker. What I love about re-usable sticker is that it’s an example of how innovation doesn’t always have to come from the digital space.

Related: What Are You Reading and on What Platform?

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

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